COTTON, Rowland (1674-1753), of Etwall, Derbys. and Bellaport, Salop.
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Family and Education
bap. 8 Dec. 1674, 1st s. of Ralph Cotton of Bellaport by Abigail, da. of James Abney of Willesley, Leics., and sis. of Sir Edward* and Sir Thomas Abney*. educ. Wadham, Oxf. 1691. m. 27 May 1695, Mary (d. 1761), da. and coh. of Sir Samuel Sleigh of Etwall, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. suc. fa. 1693.1
Burgess, Newcastle-under-Lyme 1695, capital burgess 1696–1707, mayor 1697–8; sheriff, Salop 1697–8; steward of manor of Newcastle 1702–6.2
Member SPCK, SPG.
Cotton inherited estates in Shropshire and supplemented them by the acquisition of Etwall, Derbyshire through marriage. His grandfather, William Cotton, had a considerable interest in Newcastle-under-Lyme, having in 1692 endowed the local school with sufficient funds to be granted the nomination of the schoolmaster in three out of every four vacancies. This supplemented the legacy left by William Cotton’s own uncle, Sir Rowland Cotton†, Member for Newcastle under both James I and Charles I and mayor in 1614. It seems likely that the Member’s father also resided in Newcastle while waiting to inherit Bellaport.3
Cotton’s return in a closely fought by-election in 1699 was interpreted as a snub to the Court, not least because his opponent, John Lawton*, was the brother-in-law of Charles Montagu*. The belief that Cotton inclined towards the Country party is given further credence by the support he offered to Thomas Coke*, a noted critic of the Court, during both elections for Derbyshire in 1701. On each occasion his engagement of freeholders and friends in Etwall was not without danger to his own position, for one of his opponents was Lord Roos (John Manners*), brother-in-law of Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, ‘who principally supports Mr Cotton’s interest at Newcastle’. However, these fears proved unfounded, and he was returned unopposed at each election in 1701. His contribution to events inside the House appears to have been negligible at this time. He maintained interests outside politics, including membership of both the SPCK and SPG as well as the pursuit of antiquarian research in the Cotton library. Despite parliamentary inactivity, his views were well enough known for Robert Harley* to class him as a Tory in an analysis of the House in December 1701 and his name also appeared on a ‘white list’ of Members who had voted on 26 Feb. 1702 for the motion vindicating the Commons’ proceedings over the impeachment of William III’s Whig ministers.4
Re-elected in 1702, Cotton seems to have been inactive in the first session of the Parliament. On 1 Feb. 1704, he acted as a teller in a division over the wording of an address to the Queen thanking her for communicating to the House papers on the Scotch Plot: he favoured describing their contents as ‘relating to’ treasonable correspondence with the courts of France and St. Germain rather than the stronger phrase ‘wherein are contained’, proposed by the Whigs. In March Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) considered him a likely supporter of the government’s actions in relation to the conspiracy. He was forecast in October as a probable supporter of the Tack, but did not vote for it on 28 Nov. The reason for this apparent change of mind is unclear, and his name does not appear on Harley’s lobbying list; perhaps Leveson Gower’s (now Lord Gower) place in the ministry may have influenced his attitude. On 14 Dec. Cotton received leave to go into the country to recover his health.
At the general election of 1705 Cotton was returned with Sir Thomas Bellot, 3rd Bt., after the two men had given assurances of ‘their firm adhesion to the Church in this day of danger’. Despite his failure to vote for the Tack, he was described as a ‘Churchman’ in an analysis of the new Parliament and confirmed his commitment to the Tories by voting against the Court candidate for Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705. However, his contribution to this Parliament was cut short when both he and his partner were unseated on petition on 27 Feb. 1706. Despite being discharged as a capital burgess in 1707, he regained his seat in the 1708 election, a result which the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) accounted a ‘loss’ for the Whigs. However, Cotton was unseated again on 1 Feb. 1709.5
In the more auspicious circumstances of 1710 Cotton was returned with William Burslem*. Perhaps more revealing of his political attitudes was his support for Coke in Derbyshire when the latter was threatened by two Tories critical of Coke’s attitude towards Dr Sacheverell. Cotton was not disposed to join their cabal, although he eventually suggested that Coke desist rather than suffer a defeat at the polls. Although this conduct may reveal an affinity with ‘moderate’ men, Cotton was definitely a Tory, having been reported by Thomas Jervoise* to be ‘mightily pleased that the Duchess of Marlborough is out of favour’. His political stance was confirmed by the appearance of his name among the Tories on the ‘Hanover list’, and by his being listed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who had helped to detect the mismanagements of the previous administration during the 1710–11 session. Although he is difficult to identify in the Journals between 1708 and January 1713, owing to the presence in the House of John Hynde Cotton*, he was involved in one piece of legislation in the 1711–12 session. On 3 Apr. 1712 Cotton was deputed by the SPCK to remind (Sir) Thomas Hanmer II* (4th Bt.) of his promise to assist a measure for the more easy recovery of small legacies to pious uses that had been misapplied. On the 16th ‘Mr Cotton’ was one of three Members ordered to prepare a bill for these and similar purposes, and on 14 May ‘Mr Rowland Cotton’ duly presented the bill to the Commons afterwards managing it through the House. However, the bill fell in the Lords. In February 1713 Cotton was desired by the SPCK to recommend a similar bill to the bishops in the hope that such legislation might be introduced in the Lords.6
Cotton was re-elected in 1713, and was again approached by the SPCK to offer advice on the measures necessary to revive the pious uses bill which had been lost in the 1711–12 session. He was classed as a Tory on the Worsley list and on two comparative analyses of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments. Although returned again at the 1715 general election he was unseated on petition on 2 June and never stood again. Very little is known about his subsequent life but he appears to have prospered as his will notes several land purchases in Shropshire. Cotton died on 26 Apr. 1753, being buried in the family vault at Norton-in-Hales, Shropshire.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. IGI, Staffs., Derbys.; J. P. Yeatman, Feudal Hist. Derbys. v. 52–53, 65; W. Woolley, Hist. Derbys. (Derbys. Rec. Soc. vi), 105; Add. 6695, f. 283; NRA Rep. 10882 (Cotton of Etwall), citing 286/M/F/13.
- 2. R. W. Bridgett, ‘Hist. of Newcastle-under-Lyme, 1661–1760’ (Keele Univ. MA thesis, 1982), 174; T. Pape, Educational Endowments of Newcastle-under-Lyme, 33; idem, Newcastle-under-Lyme from Restoration to 1760, p. 31; Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 168.
- 3. Woolley, 105; VCH Staffs. vi. 161.
- 4. Add. 70019, f. 143; BL, Lothian mss, Cotton to Coke, 2 Dec. 1700, 14 Nov. 1701, Ellis Cunliff to same, 21 Dec. 1700; Harl. 3778, f. 96; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 358.
- 5. Dyer’s newsletter 15 May 1705 (Speck trans.).
- 6. HMC Cowper, iii. 87, 90–91, 93, 97; Bodl. mss Locke C38, f. 7; SPCK Archs. minute bk. 5 (1709–12), p. 270; 6 (1712–15), p. 62.
- 7. SPCK Archs. minute bk. 6, p. 148; PCC 264 Searle; Gent. Mag. 1753, p. 248.